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What are Calcium Channel Blockers?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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Calcium channel blockers (CCBs) are medications used in the treatment of a variety of heart conditions and high blood pressure. In this context, they work by blocking or preventing a certain amount of calcium from getting into the heart. They don’t reduce calcium totally, but they do slow its progress into the heart and through blood vessels. Blood vessels relax and passage of blood is smoother. A number of other conditions exist for which calcium channel blockers might be prescribed, and there are many drugs that fall into this class.

The cardiovascular and heart conditions for which calcium channel blockers are often prescribed include high blood pressure or hypertension. These medications might also be used to treat angina, since the slowed rate of calcium flow may reduce constricting of the blood vessels that this painful condition causes. Some CCBs are prescribed for the treatment of dysrhythmias or arrhythmias, too. Alternately, people with high lung pressure (pulmonary hypertension) have success reducing this with a CCB. Occasionally, people have multiple heart conditions like arrhythmia and angina, and a CCB could be the most appropriate drug.

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A smaller population of people who do not have a heart condtiion could also benefit from calcium channel blockers. There is some indication they may work as mood stabilizers and be of assistance to people with anxiety disorders or bipolar disorder. The latter is particularly under investigation because some CCBs may be somewhat safer to administer to pregnant women than are most traditional mood stabilizers or antipsychotics. A few CCBs are useful in the treatment of migraine headaches, too.

There are quite a few drugs that are considered calcium channel blockers and each may have its own profile of side effects, risks, and benefits. Some medications that make this list include verapamil, amlodipine and dilatiazem. Others are nifedipine, felodipine, and nicardipine. There are still more CCBs and others might arrive on the market if they are considered improvement on the present supply.

Though each medication differs, a group of side effects can be attributed to calcium channel blockers. Degree these are felt depends on individual patients and particular drugs. As a whole group, CCBs are associated with erectile dysfunction, reduced libido, and reduction of blood pressure levels to dangerous points. They may also cause problems with constipation, other forms of stomach upset, skin rash, headache and water retention, particularly in the legs and feet. Not all people experience these side effects, but careful monitoring of people on these medications is needed, as they may occasionally cause liver problems with long-term use.

Like all drugs, calcium channel blockers have both benefits and risks. They also have drug interactions. People should understand these by speaking with their doctor when these medications are prescribed. Doctor and patient should carefully review all medications taken, including those that are over the counter or herbals/supplements. Some adjustment might need to be made to what medications can be used, or a CCB might be inappropriate when people routinely use certain other drugs.

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